Tips from the top: my west London, by artist and designer Yinka Ilori
This article is part of FT Globetrotter’s guide to London
I grew up in north London’s Islington Ashby House council estate, and spent most of my adolescent life on Upper Street, the area’s high street. I loved how multicultural and vibrant it was and the vast array of shops, restaurants and bars that brought in a mix of people from across the borough. In the very early days of my career, I was based in Hackney Central, and was drawn to the community feel and energy of the area, but it quickly became quite pricey. So about 10 years ago I decided to head west and have been based there ever since, recently moving in to a period conversion in Acton to be close to my new studio.
I think many people have fixed ideas about what west London has to offer, but if you look closely you uncover a rich tapestry of people and places. Every area in London has its own culture that shapes the city and is what makes it so unique.
Coming together for meals has always been a very important part of my upbringing. Nigerians love food, and we love sharing our food. Across west London, the strong African and Caribbean culture shines through, with a wealth of restaurants that celebrate traditional cooking. Just past Shepherd’s Bush, on a part of Uxbridge Road called The Vale, Grill Shack & Tiki Bar is an amazing Caribbean restaurant. I discovered it a while back when I saw on Instagram that Ed Sheeran had eaten and made a music video there, and I went down to check it out. It was sensational. They have some of the best spicy wings, piña coladas and frozen margaritas.
West Brompton is home to one of my favourite Nigerian restaurants, Pitanga. They serve brunch, lunch and dinner and mostly use organic produce. The food is fresh and several dishes are vegan-friendly, which is rare for Nigerian cuisine. The restaurant has a small garden outside and the owners are wonderfully fun and charismatic. On a visit there I usually order Agege bread (similar to brioche or cholla) and Nigerian scrambled eggs made with onions, mixed bell peppers, tomatoes and scotch bonnet, and akara, fritters made from black-eyed peas, onions and chillies.
Markets are where I’ve long felt most comfortable, because of where I grew up, but also because of my Nigerian heritage. I have always seen them as inclusive spaces where the community comes together and interacts. Often on the weekends, I’ll head to Shepherd’s Bush Market to shop for fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. I usually pick up provisions at Pak Butchers to cook up a storm.
All across west London, you can find a great mix of independent and community-driven businesses, such as ActOne Cinema in Acton, housed in the former library on the high street. The first cinema in the centre of Acton since the Odeon closed down in 1975, ActOne was formed by local residents for the community, giving the disused building a purpose again. Their programming reflects the diversity of the local area with mainstream and indie films, as well as film-maker events and film festivals.
I have a deep love for antiques and have been collecting furniture and objects for over 10 years. I am fascinated by the way furniture or a piece of design can absorb memories and take on new meanings. It is something I explored in my early work upcycling furniture by conveying Nigerian parables through discarded chairs. A favourite place to browse is The Old Cinema in Chiswick, where a number of independent and family-run dealerships showcase a range of antique, Art Deco, mid-century and vintage designs under one roof. I often visit on a weekend to explore and be inspired.
For a cultural fix, I like to visit the Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery in Ealing. The building was once the country home of Sir John Soane, one of Britain’s most illustrious architects, and it has a rich architectural history, having been built and unbuilt many times over the years. Its restoration a few years ago by architects Julian Harrap and Jestico + Whiles brought it back to its former glory, showcasing Soane’s bright, airy spaces and beautiful details throughout. Pitzhanger also hosts a brilliant range of contemporary art exhibitions featuring artists like Anish Kapoor, Es Devlin and Rana Begum. This March, they open an exhibition of work by Anthony Caro. In the summer, the outdoor restaurant and Walpole Park are wonderful places to soak up the sun.
Another gallery I particularly enjoy visiting is JG Contemporary, which, after hosting several pop-ups around London, opened in the heart of Acton at the end of 2019. The gallery champions both established and emerging contemporary artists whose work is rooted in urban and graffiti art. It has a relaxed and informal atmosphere and is approachable for those who may not usually step inside a gallery or museum.
Yinka Ilori is a multidisciplinary artist and designer. His collaboration with Bulgari Hotel London on an afternoon tea service runs though May, and he is currently exhibiting at London’s Design Museum until June 25
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